Reflections Across The Season
Last month, we began a series of season reflections to highlight the voices of kids, volunteers, and partners that make up the SOS family. In this month’s installment, we travel to programs across Colorado, Lake Tahoe, and the Midwest as our program managers share a few insights into the incredible youth and mentors that helped make this season so special.
JOURNEY TO SUMMIT COUNTY, COLORADO WHERE MENTOR PROGRAM PARTICIPANTS ARE GUIDED BY EMPATHY & SERVICE
Community service is an integral part of our mentor program curriculum. In Summit County, one particular favorite service project is the Tuesday night community dinners hosted by the Summit County Rotary Club. Over the past 11 years, this community dinner has fed over 150,000 people and our participants have been volunteering since the beginning. Leah Wachowski, our local program coordinator shares, “When I ask students why they think a community dinner is important, the first answer is always to help people in need and create connections with other people in the community. We discuss that it takes courage to talk to people they don’t know when serving and busing their food and compassion to show up and support members of their community.”
After getting prepared, our students spend the next two hours serving food and drinks, cleaning dishes, and busing tables. They also get a chance to eat with their Mentor group or other members of the Summit County community that they probably wouldn’t interact with otherwise. Rich, one of our Summit County mentors, celebrates, “I love the way SOS brings together such a diverse group of people (kids and mentors) to snowboard and learn about our community. The kids may look like they are just having fun but they do learn the core values and about community.”
Deb, a Summit County Rotarian who has been working with SOS and Community Dinner since its inception, recognized us at one of the Rotary’s events this winter and said “while these students have a lot of energy, in an instant they step right up to their roles to serve our community with such discipline.”
At the end of the Community Dinners, when we have our closing Circle of Love, everyone discusses their favorite part of the evening. Some students bring up being able to serve others, while others share how much they enjoyed becoming friends with a peer they would have never talked to at school. Through it all, it is clear that our students are learning compassion toward others and how to create an impact on their community.
NOW HEAD OVER VAIL PASS TO EAGLE COUNTY WHERE SOS IS A FAMILY AFFAIR
The many families across our communities are what make up the larger SOS Family. In Eagle County, it is not rare for multiple brothers and sisters to participate year after year and share the SOS experience with one another and their mentor groups. Today, we spotlight the Perez family. The Perez family has four sons, two of whom are currently in our programs and one who was involved for over a decade. See our programs through their eyes:
Alexis, a rising sophomore at the University of Colorado at Boulder, graduated from our programs last season. Throughout his decade-long involvement with us, Alexis exemplified the core values and for that reason, imparted words of wisdom as the keynote speaker at the mentor program graduation last spring. Alexis was a Peer Mentor in our program for all four years of high school, advising and supporting younger participants. When asked how his experience in our programs has impacted his life outside of high school, he shared, “I implement the core values into my everyday life in college. Living on my own, away from home is definitely a lot different from being with my parents. Due to that fact, I use core values that I learned about in SOS to keep myself on track and make sure that I am getting my work done while being the person I grew up to be. I believe that the one core value I have always had and practiced the most is integrity because I always make sure that I am not just being true and honest to others, but to myself as well in all parts of my everyday life”.
Alexis’ younger brother Diego has been in our program for 8 years, the past three of those years serving as a positive role model and Peer Mentor for other participants in the program. When asked about his experience, Diego shares, “My experience as a current Peer Mentor has been so amazing, even though the season ended early, I am truly satisfied with the SOS program. SOS in my opinion is a program that everyone needs in their life because it is basically your second family. SOS is special because the program always makes you feel comfortable and welcome. I do not see myself doing as good as I currently am if it was not for SOS. Being a part of SOS makes me feel like I have made accomplishments in my community and overall makes me feel like a leader.”
The youngest of the three brothers, Marco, participated in his first year in the Mentor program this past season and echoes his brother’s sentiments about SOS being like a second family. “I loved this year, it was so amazing… I got to go snowboarding with friends and with my brothers. My favorite thing about SOS is being with my new friends and how nice and cool the SOS team is because they made me feel like I really fit in.”
As the Perez boys share, SOS is not just a mentoring or ski/ride program, we are a second home. The bonds built, lessons learned, and support they’ve both received and given have been a constant theme for this family and a big part of their upbringing.
WE HEAD WEST TO SOUTH LAKE TAHOE & DISCOVER THE MENTOR/MENTEE BOND BETWEEN WYATT & NICK
Wyatt, of South Lake Tahoe, California, started in our program three years ago as an eager 3rd grader. Through the mentor program, Wyatt has developed a close bond and friendship with his mentor, Nick. For Wyatt, Nick is a trusted adult outside of his family, someone he can look to for advice and support. This relationship has been instrumental to Wyatt in overcoming personal challenges.
When Wyatt’s family lost a close family friend last season, it was difficult for him to make sense of the grief he was feeling. With a rollercoaster of internal emotions, Nick was there to help him navigate these unfamiliar feelings. When he was feeling down or angry, he could call Nick and rely on that comforting, familiar voice. And beyond emotional support, Wyatt looks to Nick for school help, friendship advice, and really anything he needs to talk about.
This relationship between mentor and mentee is what propels kids like Wyatt to discover their full potential. When mentors lead by example, they inspire their mentees to explore what’s possible. And, in turn, our kids discover their true self-worth. We are so grateful for the hundreds of caring mentors like Nick, who give freely of themselves to assist our youth in discovering their paths.
NOW, WE FLY TO THE MIDWEST TO CAPTURE A GLIMPSE OF DETROIT PROGRAMS AT MT. BRIGHTON
For many of our kids, that first experience skiing or snowboarding can be one of the scariest things they’ve ever done. This certainly was the case for Orlando of Detroit. Learning to ski was a difficult and terrifying experience and the mere thought of traveling to the top of the bunny hill brought panic, intense anxiety, and tears.
But Mt. Brighton’s experienced instructors sensed Orlando’s potential. With some one-on-one instruction, a large amount of courage on his part, and some positive encouragement from instructors and peers, Orlando tackled his fear of the chairlift and conquered the bunny hill run that was causing so much anxiety. By the end of the day, as his school was preparing to leave, Orlando exclaimed, “I am so proud of myself that I was able to fight my fears! I feel like I am able to face other fears now, like going to the dentist, my nightmares, being alone…” As he walked out to the bus, he kept sharing about his sense of accomplishment and newfound confidence to Foley, our program coordinator. “One more thing; whenever you (Foley) and my instructor would say nice things to me, it makes me feel so good about myself. Thank you so much, I can’t wait to come back next year!”
It’s first time experiences like Orlando’s that set a strong foundation for our participants as they start to question other fears and limitations that they thought existed.
AT LAST, WE RETURN TO COLORADO WHERE DENVER PARTICIPANT GENESIS TACKLES THE MOUNTAIN & LIFE WITH RELENTLESS DISCIPLINE
In Denver, SOS has partnered with Mapleton Public Schools for over a decade. What makes this partnership so unique is the integration of SOS into the schools, akin to sports teams or academic clubs. Championing this partnership is Sergio Panelo, a long-time teacher and coordinator of our programs at Mapleton School District. When asked to reflect on a student that has really benefited from our program, he was quick to identify Genesis, an unlikely snowboarding candidate, but a passionate individual nonetheless. Sergio recounts Genesis’ story:
“Several years ago a freshman named Genesis signed up for SOS’ intro Learn to Ski/Ride program. At first, I was concerned that SOS might not be the right fit for her. Genesis was the type of girl that would be late to PE because she was fixing her make-up or didn’t want to go outside because she might get sweaty and dirty. However, she assured me that SOS was a program she wanted to be a part of.
For the first 2 days on the mountain, her snowboarding ability was horrible. She would spend 5 minutes trying to stand up then fall down in five feet. Still, she was relentless in her discipline to continue. On day 3 everything clicked. She could stand up, slide her board and by afternoon was linking turns! After lunch I took her and several other students for their first lift higher up the mountain. At one point Genesis glides down to me, ahead of the group, stops on a dime right behind me and asks, ‘Why do we need to stop?’
That drive and experience transformed Genesis for the next 4 years of high school as she applied relentless discipline to all aspects of her life. SOS helped Genesis grow into someone who set goals and would relentlessly pursue them. She began to care less about public perception of her and instead learned to value the character of herself and others.”